MOUNT PLEASANT, Pa. (KDKA) — At 94 years old, there is not a lot the eyes of Bill Kowinski have not seen.
But seven-plus decades ago, the images and memories onboard U.S. Battleship #38 remain vivid.
“I was aboard The Pennsylvania,” Kowinski said.
The now-retired Mount Pleasant native found himself in the South Pacific as a teenager. He and his shipmates endured more than 100 kamikaze attacks while on combat patrol in places like Okinawa, the Leyte Gulf, and during the Battle of the Sargasso Sea.
But there is one night of terror and courage in the summer of 1943 that still haunts him.
“I heard two explosions,” Kowinski said. “The ship went up and down twice. At that point, the quarter-deck was chaos.”
The Japanese hit the USS Pennsylvania with two torpedos.
“Everyone did what they were asked to do, without any question,” Kowinski said.
The ship was going down, but the skipper told his crew to hold on. The crew had to make terrible choices, the kind of horrific dilemmas only war produces. Saving the ship meant sacrificing shipmates.
“It was a very tough decision to make,” Kowinski said, “to close hatches on men who were alive. They could hear them knocking. They wanted to get out.”
It has been three-fourths of a century and Kowinski still misses his shipmates. He misses the boxing matches and the liberty calls.
One shipmate would make a big name for himself after the war.
“Johnny Carson on was aboard,” Kowinski said. “He was a magician.”
Emotional pain stirred by some questions prevented the kind soul of this old sailor from answering. But he was able to tell KDKA’s Ross Guidotti why he wanted and needed to talk about when he and his friends went far away to save the world.
“I’ve never talked to anybody about it. Being as old as I am, I thought it was time for me to let the people in our country know that I offered my life for the freedom of their country.”